With white supremacy as a business model, fashion is failing to address racism

On Thursday, Conde Nast’s global content adviser/chief creative officer and editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour sent an internal note to her staff apologizing for not doing enough to “elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers, and other creators.”. Her reaction sounds odd considering that the problem of racism and discrimination in the fashion industry has been brought up numerous times in the past-while her career in Conde Nast was already thriving.

This is hardly a new issue- accusations of racism in the fashion industry have been heating up in recent years. In a 2017 article called “White-Washed Runways: The Effects of Racism in the Fashion Industry” featured in The Fashion Law, Olivia Pinnock  quotes Anna-Mari Almila, Research Fellow in Sociology of Fashion at London College of Fashion who  sees this as a consequence of broader issues in the world “When someone who has more power – socially, economically, politically – takes something from a community, then it’s a problem.”

We are used in all-white catwalks and advertising campaigns, cultural appropriation of all things black culture-the list is sadly endless. And while in the past couple of days during the #blacklivesmatter protests we have seen fashion and beauty brands making posts about how they support the black community –those very same brands barely have any black models for their campaigns or foundation shades for people of color.

Words like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ are often used as part of a marketing strategy-and often remain just a strategy. In reality, most big luxury fashion brands don’t want to address the elephant in the room and there is a very real reason for that; they profit from privilege. Being predominantly European, their brand strategies align with the idea of the ‘privileged’ luxury consumer to the westernized rich-and-white model, and that only. Washington Post critic Robin Givhan showcased the problem when addressing the 2019 fashion scandal of ‘Blackface’  by writing: “Blackface is, in essence, a kind of fashion — one rooted in the dark, arrogant insecurity of white supremacy, one inspired by this country’s original sin — that keeps evolving year after year until each iteration is just a little bit different from the previous one. But they are all of a piece.”

The idea of privilege has been culturally connected with being rich and white. If brands are to change their marketing strategy, understanding the ‘multiplicity of privileges’ out there, then we can talk about radical changes concerning racism and discrimination in the fashion world. Everything other reaction is the typical obligatory response to a ‘trending’ topic-and unfortunately-will remain so. Just ask Chanel.


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